A report by the Public Accounts Committee has warned that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has neglected the maintenance of accommodation for more than half of the Armed Forces.
The report states that this might mean “a risk to retention of service personnel" and the direct undermining of operational capability.
In 2020, 29 per cent of service personnel living in the Single Living Accommodation (SLA) said accommodation was a factor influencing their intention to leave.
The Committee said MoD “has taken the goodwill of service personnel for granted and has been complacent in how it has managed SLA”.
There is no minimum standard for SLA, unlike private or social housing or MoD’s own Service Family Accommodation. An IT system set up to manage the maintenance of SLA eight years ago is still not functioning.
A ‘fix on fail’ policy has led to a £1.5 billion maintenance and repairs backlog across all accommodation, including SLA. Much of the estate is old and 36 per cent of personnel live in the lowest-grade accommodation, with 3 per cent of these not even required to pay rent because their housing is so poor.
Those in command have plans to invest £1.5 billion to upgrade accommodation over the next 10 years, taking this from the additional £16.5 billion in defence funding announced in November 2020. However, this extra funding “seems to have already been spent more than once before it had even arrived”, the report said, raising questions about how much investment SLA will actually receive. A step change in management is needed if the MoD is to meet the reasonable expectations of service personnel and be fit for the 21st century.
Meg Hillier MP, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “Leaving over one third of our serving Armed Forces in the 'poorest' standard of accommodation sends an absolutely terrible signal about the value we place on their work defending the UK and its interests around the globe. Providing decent accommodation is part of a promise the MoD makes to our Armed Forces in recognition of their service, a promise which is being roundly broken.
"More airy promises to allot some of the new £16.5 billion defence funding that seems to have been spent several times over before its even arrived with the Department absolutely will not do – our serving personnel’s needs must not be relegated to the back of the queue yet again. They deserve better than this and full, proper delivery of the UK’s defence capabilities demands it.”
An MoD spokesperson said it would "carefully consider" the recommendations in the PAC report. He said: “Our Armed Forces personnel are at the heart of everything we do and it is only right they are provided good quality and affordable living accommodation.
"We have secured a substantial settlement of more than £24billion over four years that will underpin the modernisation of the Armed Forces, including the defence estate."